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Judge certifies class action against LA sheriff's department

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A federal judge has given the go-ahead for a class action lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. The suit alleges the department violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing wheel chairs, crutches, and other mobility devices - even when prescribed by doctors - to some jail inmates who need them.

The suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Disability Rights California, Disability Rights Legal Center, and Winston & Strawn LLP, started in 2008. Since then, the sheriff's department has changed the way it treats inmates with disabilities. But, says Jessica Price, staff attorney with the ACLU, it hasn't done enough to accommodate inmates with mobility issues as they try to navigate jail life.

"Including access to programs and services," Price says. "And the failure to provide any sort of tracking system so that people who have orders for accommodations actually get those, including, for example, someone who has an order for a lower bunk."

Price says the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation developed a sophisticated tracking system after a similar lawsuit against state prisons. She adds that a similar system could be replicated at the county level.

Now that Federal District Judge Dean Pregerson has certified inmates with mobility issues in L.A. County jails as a class, Price says, the group can seek more systemic changes. 

Meanwhile, the sheriff's department has often said that the ACLU and other groups are too quick to file lawsuits instead of working with the department to alleviate problems. In court papers filed this summer, the department said it hoped that ongoing mediation efforts would help resolve remaining issues for inmates with disabilities and that a court battle may not be necessary. 

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